On 28 January 1547, King Henry VIII died, having been monarch for nearly thirty-eight years. During his reign wide-reaching and large-scale decisions were taken regarding religious practice in England. As is commonly known, he abolished Papal supremacy and dissolved the monasteries. For many people, the most significant part was that for the first time in English history the bible became an open book. A 1538 royal order decreed that a bible be placed in every parish church that anyone may read; the English people became a bible-reading nation.
East Grinstead High Street, the location of the executions of 1558
Henry’s only surviving son, Edward VI was soon crowned King of England at the age of nine years. His reign, however, was very short lived and he died in 1553, leaving England in a period of turmoil. Edward’s half-sister, Mary was subsequently crowned Queen of England and promptly began to reverse all the Protestant reforms of her father and half-brother. In November 1554 the papal legate announced that England had been dissolved of papal censures and was restored to the Holy See, on condition that all heretics be burned at the stake. It was from this moment that Queen Mary’s Catholic reign of terror began, earning her the infamous title of ‘Bloody Mary.’ Between February 1555 and November 1558, almost three hundred Protestants were burned to death. Among them was Thomas Dungate of East Grinstead.
Thomas Dungate was reportedly captured at a farm on the London Road about a mile from Crawley, where he was in hiding. The farm where he was apprehended continued to bare the name ‘Martyrs’ until at least the 1930s. Along with fellow Protestants, John Foreman and Anne Tree, Thomas Dungate was put to trial and found guilty of heresy. On 18 July 1556 they were each tied to a stake on East Grinstead High Street and cruelly burnt to death.
John Foxe’s 1583 book Acts and Monuments of the English Martyr briefly notes of the deaths, “Nere about the same that these three women with the infant were burned at Garnesey, suffered other three like-wise at Grenstead in Sussex, two men and one woman, the names of whome were Thomas Dungate John Foreman, and Mother Tree, who for righteousnes sake, gave themselves to death and tormentes of the fire, patiently abiding what furious rage of man could say or worke agaynst them, at the sayde towne of Grensted ending theyr lives, the VII of the said month of July, and in the yeare aforesaide.”
No record of the trial of Thomas Dungate, is known to exist, although W.H. Hills, the editor of the East Grinstead Observer in the 1920s, was said to have made a trans- lation of Dungate’s trial.
The charred ashes of the three martyrs were apparently discovered during repairs to the church and, it is believed, were re-interred in the churchyard, where three commemorative grave stones were laid by Lady Musgrave.
Thomas Dungate’s family continued to reside in East Grinstead after his death; the first Dungate mentioned in the newly-created parish register was the 1561 marriage of Edward Dungate to Dionesse King. It is extremely likely that Thomas Dungate is connected to the rest of the Dungates and Dengates, but his exact connection has yet to be established. A final point of interest in this case is the high frequency of religious nonconformism within many branches of the Dengate tree—a characteristic passed down from the martyr’s family?